Terry Grimley reviews an exhibition of recent art from India.
As the world's banking system apparently threatens to slip over the edge of some unknown abyss, spec-ulators are seeing the rising stock of contemporary Indian art as a possible safe haven for their money.
One international art fund which was buying Chinese art in bulk until recently has switched its attention to the subcontinent, with art from the Middle East and other parts of Asia also tipped to attract future investment.
While I apologise for sullying a page normally concerned with pure aesthetics with such mercenary considerations, it does seem interesting to reflect on how the rise and fall of various schools of contemporary art is underpinned by commercial as well as critical considerations.
Private collector Frank Cohen, whose Initial Access gallery, located on an industrial estate north of Wolverhampton, is an established showcase for his huge and wide-ranging collection, has been collecting Indian art for two years.
Having already shown Chinese art from his collection in a previous exhibition, he is now giving the Indians a turn.
"Movements in art are happening quicker these days," he told me.
"There's a vibrant art scene now in India. I've been going there as a tourist for 20 years and looking at Indian art for a long time, but it only tempted me two years ago.
"It's not like anywhere else, you know. The Indians themselves have been buying their own art - unlike the Chinese. The Chinese rejected their own art at first, and then later they regretted it.
"The artists in this exhibition are already well established, so it's not like you're taking a gamble."
They include Delhi-based husband-and-wife Subodh Gupta and Barti Kher.
Gupta's art focuses on the humble metal cooking utensils which underpin poor rural life. He has made sculptures from them, but here he is represented by a large photorealist painting which gives them the incongruous sheen of some cutting-edge Western consumer item.
Kher, who was born in England and trained in Newcastle and Middlesex, is the most extensively represented artist here - most spectacularly by a life-sized reclining glass-fibre elephant.
She also shows two spectacular pieces each consisting of several panels, in which swirling decorative patterns reminiscent of 1960s psychedelic art are built up by the use of bindi, the decorative spots traditionally worn by married Hindu women. In one of the pieces, these take the form of sperm, and the elephant is also covered in these.
Though Kher's work is undoubtedly impressive in scale and ambition, I wouldn't claim to understand what it's about. On this level, the social commentary in the work of Krishnaraj Chonat is much easier to read.
His all-white model of a Californian-style mansion with two cars in its garage, ensnared in the branches of a giant potted shrub and shrouded in swamp-mist, is his protest at the kind of development which is now being driven by a booming economy in his part of India.
He complains that "ridiculous concepts, horrendous ideas and ecologically unsound projects are being undertaken on an unimaginable scale".
The tension between traditional and newly-affluent India provides a rich vein of inspiration for several of these artists.
Riyas Komu, a communist, paints giant heroic portraits of workers from his native Kerala.
While Ravinder Reddy's three giant, brightlypainted female heads are a monstrous parody of traditional Indian art, the artist likely to prove most reassuring to Western expectations of India is Jagannath Panda, whose sculptures and pictures incorporating textiles deploy a repertoire of plants and animals to attractive decorative effect.
* A Passage to India is at Initial Access, Units 19 & 20, Calibre Industrial Park, Laches Close, off Enterprise Drive, Four Ashes, near Wolverhampton, until August 2. Tue-Fri 11am-4pm, Sat 10am-4pm. Admission free. Call 01902 798999 or visit www.initialaccess.co.uk, which has a map showing the gallery's location